When observing these omnivorous birds from afar, you might have this question on your mind: what do seagulls eat? With over 50 species globally distributed, the seagull adapts its diets based upon its environment. So whether they soar above the seas or walk on the shores, these coastal birds take every opportunity to score a meal.
Seagulls have a reputation for their ravenous appetite that leads them to steal and eat food from most beach dwellers on a typical summer day. You might be surprised to know that their diet isn’t composed entirely of your half-eaten hot dogs or dropped French fries.
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Seagulls are scavengers that feed on anything alive or dead. Some common natural food sources seagulls eat include:
Like other seabirds, you can expect seagulls to eat fish. Although seagulls vary in size, most don’t dive for their fish; they tend to grab smaller fish, such as herring, mackerel, and smelt. You might also see them circling pelicans to steal their larger catches, such as tuna or tilapia.
Shellfish and Invertebrates
When hunting for clams and crabs, seagulls fly above a hard surface and drop their prey to crack their shells open. When hunting crawfish and plankton, seagulls use their beaks to break through the smaller exoskeletons.
Fruits, Nuts, and Berries
Do you think seafood is the only dish gulls enjoy? Fruits and nuts provide healthy protein, fats, sugars, and vitamins for seagulls. Although they don’t offer the most sustenance, their nutrients are ideal sources for instant energy.
Their habitats determine which plants they can access. We recommend using unsalted nuts if you plan on feeding them.
Where Can I Find and Observe Seagulls?
You can find seagulls in several coastal areas throughout the world. During the warmer months, you’re more likely to see them near the shorelines of beaches, oceans, and lakes.
Due to their global distribution, seagulls have different options for nesting grounds. For example, some may nest near water, while others might build their nests near cliffs. In locations with dense human populations, many seagulls nest on rooftops.
To observe seagulls, just go on a hike and make sure you have appropriate gear for your day out. You might also catch seagulls flying overhead while boating or fishing. Their desire for fish may entice them to snatch your catch of the day.
Common Seagull Species You Might Encounter
Over 50 species of seagulls live around the world. Although many share similar characteristics, including their white or gray feathers, black markings, and webbed feet, their size, shape, and patterns vary. Some seagulls you might encounter include:
- Herring gull
- Common gull
- Black-backed gull
- Black-headed gull
- Yellow-legged gull
- Western gull
How Can I Feed Seagulls?
When going to the beach, find an open spot a fair distance away from the flocks to prevent getting bombarded. You might also benefit by picking the right clothes for sun protection.
The best food you can give to a seagull outside of their natural diet includes organic chips and unsalted nuts or seeds. Don’t give them foods with grease, artificial sugars, and empty carbs.
How Seagulls Feed Their Young?
Baby seagulls share the same diet as their parents; both parents share the responsibility of getting food for their young. Then, after a successful hunt or scavenge, they regurgitate the food for their babies or feed them any remaining scraps.
Their diet depends on their nesting habitat; if they live close to the shore, the chicks eat seafood, and when they nest on beachfront buildings, their parents give them food left behind by humans.
Should I Feed Seagulls All the Time?
Due to a seagull’s ability to adapt, many become dependent on humans as a reliable food source. However, they need a balanced diet to live a long, healthy life, usually ranging between 15 to 20 years. When you continuously feed seagulls human food, you can potentially cause long-term health problems that can cut their lives short.
Feeding seagulls bread fills their systems with empty carbs and denies them the minerals they need to survive, resulting in malnutrition. Eventually, this malnutrition can develop permanent wing and foot damage, leading them to an early death.
Substances Seagulls Should Avoid
Although their taste is tempting, it would be best for you to avoid giving seagulls any processed foods containing high amounts of sugar, fat, and salt. Much like your diet, eating some foods in excess can cause complications in the long run.
Although it’s easy to ask yourself, “what do seagulls eat?” you might also want to know what they shouldn’t eat.
Some substances, such as theobromine in chocolate or caffeinated drinks, can exponentially increase a seagull’s heart rate, induce diarrhea or vomiting, and cause seizures leading to death. Even the smallest dose of chocolate can cause a problem.
Chemical compounds found in garlic and onions can cause anemia in seagulls. Although it’s unlikely you’ll eat a clove of garlic at a public beach, a bag of sour cream and onion chips is more accessible for a hungry seagull.
Persin, an acid found in avocados, is fatal to seagulls, resulting in breathing problems or heart failure. To avoid this, you might want to refrain from leaving your nachos’ avocado dip out in the open.
Consequences Of Seagulls Relying On Humans For Food
When seagulls become reliant on humans for food, they lose interest in their natural food sources. Whether seagulls encounter humans willingly feeding them or scavenge the food from their tables, they find it much more efficient and abundant than waiting for fish to swim closer to the water’s surface.
You can compare this behavior to some of your diet choices. For example, you might find ordering fast food more convenient than spending a few hours making a nutritious homemade dinner in the middle of a busy week. It’s not the healthiest option, but it takes less time to get.
Another reason this habit is hazardous to seagulls is the chance of them swallowing harmful objects. When they sift through garbage, they might swallow any objects, such as glass shards, and damage their bodies. You can avoid this by throwing away your trash carefully.
Feasting on human food also keeps seagulls closer to the ground; this, in turn, makes seagulls susceptible to more danger, such as spreading diseases within large flocks, getting hit by moving vehicles, and getting hunted by predators, such as foxes, cats, or hawks.
Some seagulls can eat smaller animals, such as rats and insects, by swallowing the whole with their beaks. They may also eat whale or seal blubber if no other food sources are available.
Unlike many animals, seagulls can drink fresh and saltwater. The salt in their bloodstream travels to special glands above their eyes and exits the body through their nostrils.
Seagull feeding laws can differ from one place to another, with some states or beaches having specific feeding activity regulations, while others ban feeding. Contact your local beaches for more information about their stances on feeding seagulls.
It depends on the seagull’s food preferences. Some seagulls soar over the beach to search for insects or mollusks hidden underneath the sand.
Although you can see seagulls eating human food whenever they can, their natural fish, shellfish, and plant-based diets have more nutritional value and help keep them healthy. How a seagull adapts to its surroundings determines what foods they prefer surviving on. They can eat some foods, but others can harm them, so thinking before throwing them your food would be wise.